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Abuse at Ohio State; Rescuing Kids in a Thai Cave; Another U.K. Possible Poisoning; Infections Spike in Puerto Rico. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired July 4, 2018 - 08:30   ET


[08:30:00] MIKE DISABATO, FORMER OHIO STATE WRESTLER: Was a genital exam. I was 14. And four years later, five years later, I'm a freshman at the Ohio State University. The first week of school each year the team participated in a -- you had to go through a physical. The last step of the physical was to go into a room with a closed door with Doc Strauss. And during that exam, he always did a thorough evaluation of our glands, both under our -- under our -- this region.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Under your arms.

DISABATO: Yes, under your arm, and the other lymph nodes were in your groin area. And that gave him, you know, his ammunition or his reasons for touching male penises. And, again, it was just an uncomfortable situation for us as athletes. You're talking about 18, 19-year-old kids who were coming from, you know, small towns across Ohio. The Ohio State University is the -- is the largest employer in the state of Ohio. It's got -- it's immensely powerful. You know, the local economy is based on the success of the athletic program. The brand is built on the success of the athletic program. And, frankly, it just was an unfortunate situation.

BERMAN: Hey, Mike, I think everyone knows that a genital exam isn't necessary to measure body fat. I think a lot of those procedures, everyone knows at this point, not necessary to do what they were reported to do. You say this happened not just to you, but also other wrestlers, other athletes at the school while you were there. Now Congressman Jim Jordan was a wrestling coach. Do you believe he knew about this while he was there?

DISABATO: I don't -- I know Jim knew about the -- what I call the deviant sexual atmosphere that we were exposed to.

BERMAN: How do you know? How do you know?

DISABATO: Well, I -- we all had conversations. Jim was more like a big brother than a coach. He was, you know, 23, 24 years old when I -- when I first met him in 1986. When he first became an assistant coach at Ohio State. I've known Jim for over 40 years. His family and I -- I've been close to his family. I've stayed in touch with Jim over the years. We talk, you know, once a month.

BERMAN: Do you remember -- do you remember specifically talking to him about this back then while it was happening? DISABATO: Absolutely. I mean it was -- it -- like I said, it was

something that we would discuss on a regular basis, mainly with nervous banter, locker room banter. If you've ever been in a male locker room, there's a lot of testosterone and there was a lot of banter about, you know, doc being a groper. I don't think, to be fair to Jim, you know, the words, I think there's a lot of semantics being played with words. I think it's unfortunate that he was advised and/or signed off on the statement that he gave which we --

BERMAN: Well, let me -- let me -- let me get -- we just get to that point again. Again, do you remember anything specifically he said to you about these incidents, what you call groping, at the time?

DISABATO: Well, again, it -- yes. We had multiple conversations.


DISABATO: It was -- you know, I'm not the only person who, you know, had conversations with -- again, it was something that we'd be in the locker room, there's 40 guys in our locker room and doc was in the locker room. Well, he had his own locker. And it just was impossible for anyone during that time to not know that this guy was at best a groper. I don't think the word abuse was used by athletes at the time, sexual abuse.

BERMAN: Because it's possible -- it's possible you didn't understand. It was a different era.


BERMAN: You were younger. Who -- you know, it may not be that you fully understood what was going on. We have learned a lot more about that since then. We saw what happened with Dr. Larry Nassar. But you knew what was being done to your bodies, that's for sure. You also now know what you talked about.

The statement from Congressman Jim Jordan's office was, is, "Congressman Jordan never saw any abuse, never heard about any abuse and never had any abuse reported to him during his time as coach at Ohio State."

When you see that statement, what do you think?

DISABATO: Again, it's just not true. And I think the congressman may be playing semantics with the word.

Again, I don't -- I don't think Jim and/or a lot of folks, coaches, administrators, really understood that, you know, touching a man's genitals without the need to do so is the definition -- is a definition of sexual abuse and sexual assault. Again, in the mid-80s, that -- that term wasn't necessarily used. However, to now say -- to now know that the word does apply to what was happening to us at the time is just -- is -- is -- is just -- it's surprising to me given the fact that Jim has -- this isn't the Jim Jordan I know.

[08:35:21] BERMAN: You've spoken to him about this recently. I understand you reached out to him to tell him you were going to go public with some of this information. What did he say?

DISABATO: Well, I had a 45 minute conversation with Jim before the whistle blowing meeting with Ohio State. You know, I've been close to Jim and Russ Hellickson. I had a conversation with both of them. I had, you know, been trying to gather information from the university since January. The university was stonewalling. At one point they told me there was no information on Strauss' employment files. I told Jim all this and indicated that, you know, this wasn't -- this wasn't about attacking Jim Jordan, this was about telling the truth about what happened to -- and not just me but athletes -- more than a thousand athletes in 15 sports.

There's 15 different sports and athletes and the word throughout the department -- and I've confirmed it over the last several months -- was that this doc was serial abuser. He didn't --

BERMAN: And what did -- what did Congressman Jordan say to you when you told him you were coming forward with this?

DISABATO: Well, first of all, to be fair, when you have a conversation -- and I've had multiple conversations with victims, and you're talking about sexual abuse, it's not necessarily -- it's shocking to want -- to some extent. And so his reaction was, you know, I just don't want to get involved.

I didn't argue with him at the time because, again, it's -- it's something that -- that you have to kind of come to grips with. It took me a while to really understand and look at the definitions and understand completely that what was happening was sexual assault. We call it groping. You can call it fondling. But, again, it was absolutely wrong. Everyone knew he was doing this.

He was -- you know he -- he did this to wrestlers from other schools. I mean he would -- there was multiple complaints from coaches across the Big 10, some teams like Arizona State I know came into Ohio and Strauss would attend some of their training sessions and he would, you know, approach athletes and, you know, ask them to give physicals and it was just a very bizarre episode.

BERMAN: And -- yes. And the university is investigating. There is an investigation going on right now. Again, just as we go, what message do you want to send to Congressman Jordan, someone who you say you've known for years?

DISABATO: Well, again, there was no reason to deny that this happened. It's not necessarily Jim Jordan's fault that the university did not take action. I think he should have looked at the definition, sought better counsel before he used such dramatic words to really upset the victims. I mean I've known Jim and this just is not -- this was not good for his -- I mean, it just wasn't true.


DISABATO: And, you know, part of me is -- I've got a lot of affinity for Jim Jordan as a coach, as an athlete, as a friend and -- but at the end of the day, I've got a duty to myself and other victims to tell the real story, not a fake narrative. This is a real narrative. And, unfortunately, the university as gone out of their way to file what I call a Big 10 playbook of, you know, denial, placation, double talk.

BERMAN: Right.

DISABATO: And so in April this year I asked --

BERMAN: Well --

DISABATO: Yes, I'm sorry.

BERMAN: Well, we've got to go. I do appreciate your time here. We know you are pursuing this. We want you to keep us posted as you go forward with this.

Again, I think there are a lot of people in your boat right now who do want to see some kind of justice. Jim Jordan, let me read you one last part of his statement. He says, if there are people who are abused, then that's terrible, and we want justice to happen. Again, Jim Jordan says he never saw any, never heard anything about it.

Mike Disabato, thanks so much for being with us. Do appreciate it.

DISABATO: Thank you.

BERMAN: Alisyn.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: That was really helpful to hear his first-person story. That was really helpful to hear from Mike there.

[08:39:54] OK, so, obviously, we've been following these kids who were trapped in the cave, 12 of them, this soccer team. How will they get out? There are frantic efforts as we speak to rescue those kids. What's the latest thinking on the best way to free them?


CAMEROTA: All right, so efforts are still underway to rescue those 12 boys and their coach trapped now for 11 days in that flooded cave in Thailand. It is still not clear how they will get out.

Joining us now with his thoughts is Cade Courtley. He's a former Navy SEAL and author of "The SEAL Survival Guide."

Cade, we really appreciate your service, we appreciate your expertise in this.

So, listen, we keep talking about how the clock is ticking, that time is of the essence. How much time do you think authorities have to figure out how to get these boys out?

CADE COURTLEY, AUTHOR, "SEAL SURVIVAL GUIDE": Well, let's assess this situation that we have right now. We found them. They have food. They have water. They have shelter. There are no major medical issues or injuries. They have communications and they have medical staff standing by. So given the situation, in my experience, I would consider this relatively stable and non-life threatening. It's not convenient, but it's stable and non-life threatening, which means we have the luxury of time. And with that time we are able to do a threat analysis -- or, I'm sorry, a risk analysis on all of our options. And I keep hearing the option of dive them out. And I think that should be the very last option (INAUDIBLE).

[08:45:11] CAMEROTA: Why? Why don't you like that option?

COURTLEY: OK, so when I was at SEAL Team One, I was part of a very special dive unit. So I have thousands of hours underwater doing operations with zero visibility, limited to no space and it took two professional divers multiple times and over 90 minutes to finally get to this crew, this soccer team, all right. Those were two professional cave divers.

And now you're going ask someone as young as 11, who might not be able to swim, to go ahead and put on a new piece of equipment and make the same journey back that's going to take at least 90 and more -- more likely two hours to get back through that situation after the ten plus days they've endured of exhaustion, fear, this and that. And, by the way, you're going to put something on and breath under water for the first time and you have a hard time swimming. There are so many ways that that could go wrong.

Unlike a dive in the ocean where if you have an equipment failure, you ascend to the surface. That doesn't happen in these tunnels. And it's just asking way too much of these kids.

CAMEROTA: Listen, yes, I really -- I appreciate -- that's a really good perspective that you have and it's obviously chilling. But the problem is, is that the weather could turn. I mean I know you say that the situation is stable and that's comforting to hear, but it is monsoon season. The weather could change. The weather is predicted to change and what if the cave starts flooding again?

COURTLEY: Alisyn, if in 2018, given the huge team of experts that we have on the ground there, if they can't figure out a way to divert, dam and shore up any additional water from entering a cave entrance and utilize some of the pumps that we have in this world that could be airlifted in there within an hour that have the ability of removing over a thousand gallons of water a minute, if we can't do that in 2018, and we're saying diving is our best option, that's a problem.


COURTLEY: Now, I'm in Colorado and it's easy for me to say, but if they're not having that discussion in Thailand, we have a problem if you're going ask an 11-year-old to make a dive that a former Navy SEAL who specialized in diving would have a challenge making this dive, I hate to say this, but some of these kids are going to die in an effort to try to bring them out using dive equipment.

CAMEROTA: Well, Cade, you just could not be stating it any more plainly and sounding the alarm here. And we hope and have faith that people with this expertise are on the ground there to figure out how to get them out some other way.

Cade Courtley, thank you again very much for your service. Happy Fourth of July to you.

COURTLEY: Hey, happy Fourth of July to you and all your viewers. Have a great day.

CAMEROTA: You too.

BERMAN: We do have some breaking news.

Authorities in the United Kingdom are investigating a new, possible poisoning. A live report from the scene, next.


[08:51:57] CAMEROTA: We do have some breaking news for you right now.

British counterterrorism police are investigating an incident that has left two people in critical condition after being exposed to an unknown substance.

CNN's Erin McLaughlin is live in Amesbury, England, with the breaking details.

What have you learned?

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, this happened on Saturday evening. A couple that have not been identified though before by authorities were found unconscious in the apartment building behind me just hours before, according to local residents we've been talking to, they attended a fun fair at a Baptist church, now in critical condition in the hospital. Authorities say initially they suspected a drug overdose, heroin or cocaine. Now they're saying they're not so sure. They declared a major incident, cordoned off not only the apartment building behind me, but also a local pharmacy, as well as that Baptist church. And many people here in this tiny English village are on edge, in part because of the proximity to Salisbury, where some four months ago an ex-Russian double agent and his daughter were poisoned by a military-grade nerve agent. The U.K. government has blamed Russia for that attack. Something that Russia denies. We heard earlier today from the police chief for this area who says that so far they have not established any links between what happened here and Salisbury, but they remain open-minded and now counterterrorism police are involved in this investigation.


BERMAN: All right, Erin McLaughlin for us in Amesbury.

Erin, please, keep us posted.

In the meantime, CNN has learned deaths from a bacterial infection spiked in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria hit the island. Medical experts tell CNN, an epidemic or health emergency should have been declared. CNN's Leyla Santiago joins us now with more.


LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, not only do those medical experts say an outbreak should have been declared, they are telling us that doing so could have triggered a different type of response. And even so, the government of Puerto Rico is refusing to call it an outbreak.

So let's go over what we found.

Well, CNN has identified 26 cases of leptospirosis in the month after Hurricane Maria. That is a bacterial illness that spreads through soil and water. So common to see after the type of flooding we saw after Hurricane Maria. Not so common for it to be so deadly.

So, let me put this into context for you. That number, 26, is twice the amount of those types of cases listed in Puerto Rico the previous year. And even so -- even so, we found 26 cases. The official death toll, which stands at 64, only lists four of those cases related to Hurricane Maria.

So it's just another reason to question this death toll. We found those 26 cases after digging through a government database that we had to actually sue the government of Puerto Rico, along the the Center of Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico, to gain access to. And so we continue to sort of find reasons to look into this death toll.

[08:55:02] Remember, last year, we -- our investigation revealed that the death toll could be 9 times what the government was reporting. Harvard researchers have found that it could be 70 times what the government is reporting.

Now, for the government of Puerto Rico's part, they say that they are waiting for a study out of George Washington University. They have asked for official review. And once that is complete, they may change the death toll. But until that is done, which is expected to have some findings in July, they say they don't plan to make any changes to Hurricane Maria's death toll.

Alisyn. John.

CAMEROTA: Leyla, we are so glad that you are staying on this and that your investigation and your reporting is bringing us the truth about what happened after Maria. Thank you very much.

OK, so this was a fun holiday show.

Are you -- what are you doing for the rest of the day?

BERMAN: Sleeping. A Fourth of July tradition.

CAMEROTA: OK. Fair enough.

And you, Avlon? JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: I'll be -- a little grilling out.


AVLON: Listening to X's Fourth of July.

CAMEROTA: The best Fourth of July song, John Avlon and I have decided, X's Fourth of July.

AVLON: Happy Fourth, guys.

BERMAN: I take your word for it. Of the dozens of Fourth of July songs, it's absolutely the best.

CAMEROTA: Try it. It's really great.

OK, so, CNN "NEWSROOM" with Erica Hill picks up after this very quick break. Have a wonderful holiday everyone.


[09:00:04] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning on this Fourth of July and happy Independence Day to you. I'm Erica Hill, in today for Poppy.